Sammy’s Avenue Eatery
Noteworthy: North Minneapolis cafe with two locations known as neighborhood gathering spots
It seems like everybody in north Minneapolis knows Sammy McDowell, proprietor of Sammy’s Avenue Eatery on West Broadway Avenue. Since the small café opened in 2012, it’s been drawing people for more than just its sandwiches, establishing a reputation as a community gathering spot.
“That’s what we are known for: a good meeting spot, a good space where people can be. I say it’s America, how America really should be,” says McDowell. “We have all types of people coming into the eatery, from the white executives to the Black executives to the so-called thugs … single moms, single dads. Everybody comes here.”
People outside of north Minneapolis might know McDowell, too. He was featured on CNN in April as part of a story on struggling small businesses.
He compares the pandemic to a hurricane and its aftermath.
“It was a hot mess. We stuck together and got through it,” McDowell says.
Sales were down about 50 percent throughout 2020. But he kept the doors open and did it without laying off any staff. Café hours were reduced, the landlord of the Broadway location was accommodating, and McDowell landed a PPP loan to help the business survive. He also offers catering, which provided a periodic boost during the year.
It’s also clear that McDowell sees his business as a higher calling. He expanded in 2019, with a second location on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis.
“I’m glad I’m there, because there’s not a lot of Black business in that area,” says McDowell. “I’m very spiritual about the things I do. I absolutely know that I’m there for more than just to sell sandwiches.”
Thoughts of calling it quits? “No. Why should I?”
Advice on starting and running a small business:
“I would tell [people considering a small business] to make sure that it’s something they’re passionate about,” McDowell says. “Because [there will] definitely be ups and downs in the business. Find your passion and shape a business around the passion.”